Creating a massive, realistic world can eat up developers' time and resources; just look at Skyrim. The game is huge, but shallow; to borrow a comparison from a source we can't remember, it's like a puddle the size of an ocean. Maybe that would have been different if Bethesda could have used something like the Outerra engine to create the world while they focused on gameplay and story.
Outerra was shown off at GDC this week, though it's been in development for years. It uses data about Earth's surface to height-map a virtual world. The surface details are procedurally generated as you traverse it, meaning you could theoretically travel anywhere on the planet without a developer having to painstakingly design thousands of miles of digital space.
The first game being made using the engine is called Anteworld, and it concerns a desolate, empty Earth on which players must rebuild civilization. It promises "asynchronous content propagation" (your cities show up in other players' worlds) and direct multiplayer. It may even end up like a much less shady version of Second Life. Check out the video above and download a tech demo here if you'd like to see for yourself.
Do you think this has potential, or would you rather developers spent more time designing compelling imaginary worlds? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.